Personality goes a long way: On keynotes, trade shows, and Steve Jobs


I’m not going to CES this year nor am I going to MacWorld. I’m not doing this in protest or in a misguided attempt to seem “above it all” – we just had a new baby and I don’t want to subject my wife to two monsters of yawp during CES/Macworld week – but I’m extremely pleased with my decision.

I’ve been covering trade shows in some form or another for eight years. I know folks who have been covering them for twenty-five years or more. And everyone agrees: as of late they have become a waste of time, effort, and attention, yet there is something in the trade show that draws us in year after year. At CES it’s the sheer volume of crap to cover. At MacWorld it’s always been Steve.

Well, friends, MacWorld is now Steve-less and the personalities of yesterday – Bill Gates and I guess folks like Michael Dell – just don’t matter any more, so CES is also without a rudder. You went to MacWorld to see a rock star and you went to CES to see what you’d be using in the office next year. With the commoditization and easy OEM manufacturing of MP3 players, PCs, and laptops, however, you’ve probably already seen everything that will be at CES. And if you haven’t, you probably didn’t want to see it in the first place. Not to be blase, but there is little new under the sun in the era of the 40-second news cycle and blogs that release information consistently and constantly throughout the year.

First, let’s talk about MacWorld. MacWorld wasn’t an Apple show. It was a show about Apple. For Steve to show up year after year was actually a chore, and as Giz found:

Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers….Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.

Why else are trade shows useless? The cost.

My wife, before she was laid off, used to run trade shows for the financial industry. For the piddly little shows she set up, the costs were enormous compared to the pay off – usually in the $50,000-$100,000 range for perhaps 10,000 physical impressions, if that. By impressions I mean people literally walking by the booth, not stopping, not signing up for anything. Now imagine expanding that to MacWorld or CES size and you’re dealing with a return on investment in the single digits. You can spend $1 million to tell 610 WTVN in Columbus, Ohio about your latest MP3 player or you can send the player to Giz, Eng, or CG for $100 and WTVN will pick it up anyway. There is no reason to get in front of this audience anymore.

I know I’m ignoring the most important aspect of these trade shows. Trade shows, in general, are actually for the vendors. They go out to Vegas or San Fran, drink a lot, order some stuff from a catalog, and go back home. Good times. But what about the folks overseas? CeBIT is a ghost of a shell of a trade show and, like the rest of the world, it’s trivial to get good information online about what to order next year.

So good luck, MacWorld and CES. You had a good run. I’ll probably attend you next year and I have quite a few folks going this year from CG, but it’s force of habit more than overt value that draws me to your turbulent and truculent halls. The personalities are long gone and until someone comes along to take their place, the Adult Video show will probably have more and better stars to offer at their keynotes than you ever will.